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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Up the War on the Invasive Sea Lamprey

Jun 03, 2013 12:25 PM EDT

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will treat one of Lake Michigan’s largest arteries in coming days in hopes of eradicating sea lamprey from the river, according to the Associated Press.

The stuff of nightmares, the jawless fish uses a tooth-studded oral disc like a suction cup to attach to its prey and feed off its bodily fluids. Capable of growing between 24 to 30 inches long, one lamprey can consume anywhere from 15 to 40 pounds of fish in its lifetime - a problem for the Great Lakes' native fish.

The treatment to be carried out by the Service will take place between Tuesday and Sunday in Mitchell Creek, which flows through Traverse City State Park before entering Grand Traverse Bay’s east arm.

The timing, according to the Service, is planned around the period in which the sea lamprey is still in its larval stage.

“For us to get the adult lamprey in the lakes would be impossible,” a fish biologist with the U.S. agency told the news organization; however, as Gonzalez told the Traverse City Record-Eagle, scientists estimate the planned treatments to be anywhere from 95 to 99 percent effective.

Heather Hettinger, a fisheries biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, further explained to the Associated Press that most of Lake Michigan’s tributaries have been regularly treated for decades, and though the lampricides don’t pose an “unreasonable” risk to the humans or the larger environment, people are encouraged to limit their exposure while the treatments are underway.

Likely introduced to Lake Ontario in the 1830s via manmade locks and ship canals, sea lampreys have long played a leading role in the devastation of the Great Lakes native fish species. In fact, they are believed to be the driving force behind the rapid decline of lake trout between the 1940s and 1950s that ultimately led to the extinction of the species in all but Lake Superior, according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS).

At this point, however, the sea lamprey is considered to be successfully controlled through efforts like those taking place in Mitchell Creek this week, the USGS said.

Correction: The aritcle previous stated that sea lampreys could grow between 24 and 30 feet long. The correct unit of measurement is inches.

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